Companies around the world have been spurred by the pandemic to consider what they can do, both the mitigate the effects on their own operations and to adapt what they do to help others.
For distillers and breweries, with pubs and restaurants closed and income dramatically reduced, an immediate response has been to make hand sanitisers. For companies in the life sciences sector which are developing drugs or medical devices, it is often possible to adapt their core business to products or services which can be used in the response to the COVID-19 virus. Even in sectors such as subsea engineering there is experience and expertise which can be put to good use.
Everyone will have their own favourite illustrations of efforts to counter the virus, but here is a selection in random order from YCF – in many cases the companies namechecked below have secured investment from Scotland’s business angel groups and other specialist early stage investors.
A group of medical students from Dundee University have launched a one-stop shop support scheme for NHS workers during the coronavirus pandemic. NHS workers can request support in the form of childcare, food, shopping and pet care. The requests are put out to medical student volunteers in the local area who have signed up and the requests are matched up with someone who can help.
The model was launched in Dundee and has already been joined by 37 other institutions. Organisers hope the Health Students Helping in Pandemics (HealthSHIP) website (healthship.org) will now be adopted across the UK and Ireland. HealthSHIP already has more than 500 sign-ups with dozens of tasks completed or under way.
Lawyers from Morton Fraser did all the start-up and contractual legals for HealthSHIP on a pro bono basis.
Exscientia (www.exscientia.ai), a spinout company from the University of Dundee, specialises in Artificial Intelligence-driven drug discovery. The firm, now headquartered in Oxford, is working on a joint initiative with Diamond Light Source (the UK’s national synchrotron science facility) and Calibr, a division of US-based Scripps Research. The partnership will begin by screening Calbr’s collection of 15,000 clinically ready molecules, which have already been shown to be safe for use in humans or have passed pre-clinical safety studies, to find existing compounds that could be repurposed to fight COVID-19. Exscientia also plans to use its AI to design even more effective compounds.
Augment Bionics (www.augmentbionics.co.uk) is a medical devices student-run start-up based at the University of Edinburgh, focused on building high functioning and affordable 3D printed prosthetics for transradial amputees and individuals with below-elbow limb differences.
The company says “We know that 3D printing can change lives”, and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has started 3D printing and donating essential protective medical equipment in response to national shortages. Initially this means face shields, for which the company has the capacity to manufacture to the necessary standards, using a design from Prusa Research already verified by the Czech Ministry of Health and in use worldwide.
The company has been able to provide these masks to the NHS free of charge thanks in part to a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign, which remains open with a target of £20,000.
NovaBiotics (novabiotics.co.uk), a clinical stage anti-microbials drug discovery company, has announced the rapid repurposing of Nylexa for the ‘hidden killer’ underlying COVID-19: secondary bacterial lung infections. The active ingredient of Nylexa has proven to be safe and effective in clinical studies carried out across the UK, Italy and the US for the complex bacterial lung infections associated with cystic fibrosis (CF). Nylexa could be rapidly re-positioned as a COVID-19 therapy and tested in patients in the second half of 2020, ahead of any vaccine being available.
Lamellar Biomedical (www.lamellar.com) says one of its treatments could help save lives by halting the progression of lung damage in Covid-19 patients. The company has pre-clinical evidence that Lamellasome can protect lung cells and tissue if inhaled within five to eight days of symptoms of respiratory lung disease. Company chairman Dr Duncan Moore said “We believe that that the inherent attributes of LAMELLASOME™ are extremely well suited to be a potential approach to preventing the onset of the serious respiratory symptoms seen in COVID-19 patients. Lamellar is focused on treating complex lung disorders and we believe that our Lamellasome formulations could make an important difference to patients and healthcare providers globally.”
Interface (interface-online.org.uk) connects organisations from national and international industries to Scotland’s universities, research institutes and colleges. In a blog entitled United in battle against coronavirus the organisation has given a wide range of examples of companies making their own contribution, and academic partners offering resources and expertise.
4c Engineering (www.4cengineering.co.uk) and Aseptium (aseptium.com), neighbours in HIE’s Solasta House on the Inverness Campus, contacted the local Raigmore hospital to see if their combined design and rapid manufacture capabilities could meet an urgent need. The intensive care unit team at Raigmore took up their offer to produce face shields which can protect staff against infection.
This began what was dubbed Project Corran – taken from the Gaelic for crescent – the shape of the face when viewed from above. The Corran design is simple, and unlike alternatives does not require 3D printing – it is made of four commonly available components. After a prototype was presented to Raigmore ICU and Infection Control staff, the hospital ordered 1,000 units.
The design is being made freely available so that other similar companies can make their own much needed protection for NHS workers. The only requests are that design credit is given, modified designs have an equally open licence and that manufacture is non-profit.
Trickle (trickle.works) has developed an Employee Engagement and Wellbeing platform which keeps people connected, prioritises team suggestions and concerns, and enables private, one-to-one support for wellbeing or other personal issues. Trickle allows teams to safely communicate information with each other and upwards to management. Trickle is offering the platform completely free of charge until 3rd May 2020, and comments “We know our platform will help keep workforces connected, up-to-speed with new policies and other developments, as well as helping to boost everyone’s morale.” The company has already seen around 10,000 new users invited to use its Platform.
Censo Biotechnologies (www.censobio.com) is the first Scottish company to work with the NHS offering direct testing support for COVID-19. Censo is repurposing its laboratories in Scotland and Cambridge to process a minimum of 500 diagnostic tests every day. The tests will enable the NHS to test their staff and tell anxious patients whether or not they are suffering from the virus.
Censo has the capacity to rise to this challenge because of a recent injection of funds from its principal investor, Par Equity.
Edinburgh Emergency Medical Supplies (www.edinburghems.com) is a group of action-minded researchers, engineers, academics and volunteers who have responded to the COVID-19 outbreak by pooling abilities and resources with the aim of providing personal protective gear to front line healthcare professionals. As it became increasingly clear that COVID-19 would become a global disaster, the users of the Edinburgh Hacklab, a not-for-profit shared spaces company based at Summerhall in Edinburgh, came together to see what they could do to help address some of the emerging needs. Ventilators were determined to be too complex to produce in a timely manner, and the group settled on face shields. After experimenting with designs, several prototypes were taken to The Borders hospital, where staff approved two models, one 3D printed and the other designed to be made by hand. The group has now established reliable production of 3D printed face shields, beginning in earnest at the start of April. A crowdfund campaign has raised more than £29,000 of a target £35,000 in a crowdfunding campaign (still open) on Crowdfunder, under the name Edinburgh Shield Force.
Travel retailer Trtl (uk.trtltravel.com) has donated 10,000 pairs of compression socks to nurses in hospitals across Scotland and in London. With the company’s sales stalling due to the pandemic and little prospect of travel bans being rescinded any time soon, CEO Michael Corrigan decided to donate the unsold socks to nurses, to help make the long hours they spend on their feet more comfortable.
A new free-to-use jobs portal to help workers from the tourism and hospitality sectors who have found themselves displaced as a result of the COVID-19 has been launched. Supported by the Scottish Tourism Alliance (scottishtourismalliance.co.uk) and UK Hospitality, the recruitment portal is designed to help tourism and hospitality staff find at least temporary employment in other sectors such as food retail and supply, health care and delivery that now require high volumes of staff to get through the crisis.